Many believe the 40 day Lenten period before Easter originated as a season of preparation for new converts before baptism. In the early church, particularly as Christianity gained popularity in the 4th-century, new converts were put through an intense discipleship process before being baptized and welcomed to receive Communion for the first time. Church leaders wanted to ensure that the person’s faith was active and life-changing and not simply rush them through the baptismal process.
So, they instituted a period of time for the character and life of those pursuing baptism to be examined publicly. Intensive teaching sessions were included in this time, and church leaders would explain the teachings of the Bible. The season included fasting and prayer in preparation for their full inclusion into the Christian community. This entire process culminated in baptism on Easter morning. Gradually, this Lenten season expanded to include the entire church community, not only baptismal candidates, and became the period of remembrance and preparation for Easter we now know.
How does this early picture of Lent shape our understanding of its purpose now?
To me, it suggests that fundamentally Lent is about “formation in the way of Jesus.” Lent is primarily about our journey of discipleship. This embodied season of repentance, fasting, self-denial, and humble awareness of Christ’s sufferings is all for the purpose of making us look more like Jesus. Abstaining from something if it doesn’t make us more Christlike isn’t beneficial.
Lent shouldn’t be an episodic season, which comes and goes. It should be a season marking our continued growth in the Christian life. It should be about change and conversion, leading to long lasting effects. It can be a season of instilling habits and attitudes we can carry with us all year round.
So as we walk through this season of Lent, may it be about more than a lack of chocolate or caffeine. My prayer for us all is that as we consider all Christ endured on our behalf, our hearts will be transformed to love him in thought, word, and deed as we seek to be a people worthy of His Name.
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This history and emphasis is why, in many church traditions, there is an opportunity to renew your baptismal vows at the end of Lent, as a part of the Easter celebrations. It’s an opportunity to corporately declare our renewed dedication to discipleship.
Even if you don’t worship in a church tradition which incorporates baptism vows (or their renewal), the questions can be a helpful self-examination. They touch on the basics of Christian discipleship, in both belief and action. I find them a good reminder of what the core of the Christian faith is about. The baptismal vows which follow are those of the Anglican Church.
In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.
Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbor?
Do you turn to Christ as Savior?
Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?
Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you acknowledge Christ's authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?